Death and the Afterlife - RSST6410

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 5 30 (15) Chris Deacy checkmark-circle


This module will evaluate and critique a range of historical, philosophical, theological and secular perspectives on death and the afterlife, beginning with the way the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, the Qu'ran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Upanishads conceptualise the nature and destiny of humankind, including such concepts as sheol, moksha, purgatory, eternal life, heaven and hell. This will be followed by a discussion of the interplay in western theological and philosophical traditions between competing notions of the resurrection of the flesh and the immortality of the body as well as an evaluation of what various Christian thinkers, including Augustine and Origen, believed that an eternity in heaven or hell might be like.

The module will then investigate the range of eschatological teachings that different traditions have offered, including in Christian thought the diversity of realised and future forms of eschatology, as well as the tenability of purported testimony surrounding the possibility of out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and mind-dependent worlds, and the way in which such endeavours have been sustained or critiqued in the light of scientific and historical advances.

The module will conclude with a detailed study of the way in which filmmakers and novelists have approached eschatological and apocalyptic teachings and reconceptualised them. This will be done with specific reference to Conrad Ostwalt’s work on the desacralisation of the apocalypse in Jewish and Christian thought in a range of 1990’s Hollywood science fiction movies, and the impact that such attempts have had on the way questions of life after death have conventionally been approached.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40
Private Study Hours: 260
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Essay 1 (1,500 words) – 25%
Essay 2 (2,000 words) – 35%
Examination (2 hours) – 40%

Reassessment methods
Reassessment Instrument: 100% Coursework

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Understand the nature and scope of perspectives on death, eschatology and apocalypticism within a variety of world religions;
2 Identify, discuss and analyse the contribution made by key theologians and philosophers to the concept and necessity of an afterlife;
3 Identify and understand competing philosophical, theological and religious claims surrounding such teachings as the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the flesh;
4 Demonstrate a comprehensive awareness of the diversity of eschatological models within a variety of traditions (e.g. realised and future forms of eschatology, mind-dependent worlds, reincarnation and the concepts of the New Jerusalem and moksa);
5 Examine the purported evidence about the possibility of out-of-body and near-death experiences with reference to specific thinkers, as well as with respect to academic scepticism in this area;
6 Evaluate the influence of historical and scientific contexts on the eschatological and apocalyptic hopes that have arisen;
7 Appraise the ways in which novelists and filmmakers have contributed to our cultural or theological understanding of heaven and hell with reference to particular novels or films.

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate a growing ability to work independently and effectively;
2 Present evidence of an ability to structure scholarly and carefully thought through arguments;
3 Use electronic media to identify and collate appropriate academic resources from the library material, including primary sources, online journals, and other reliable electronic sources, and reference this material effectively;
4 Deploy a range of IT skills effectively, such as word-processing text with footnotes, basic formatting, searching databases and text files;
5 Demonstrate a capacity to take responsibility for their own personal and professional learning and development.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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